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Back Row: April 2012 Archives

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Fenwick High School gathered 30 of its athletes who will continue their athletic careers on the Division I, II, III and NAIA level for a group photograph on Monday, April 30.

Two of the athletes are Meredith Boardman (front row, far left), who will play basketball at Northwestern University in Evanston, and Marek Burchett (front row, sixth from left), who will play basketball at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

***

Lewis University (Romeoville, Ill.) is on its way to the Final Four in men's volleyball this weekend.

Led by Downers Grove North graduate Jay Petty and Brother Rice graduate Matt Gallik, No. 7 Lewis (26-6) defeated No. 10 Ohio State 20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 15-10 to win the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association championship at Ohio State on Saturday, April 28.

Lewis will play at-large berth awardee USC at USC at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 3 in the NCAA Division I Men's Volleyball National Final Four. The match can be viewed at www.ncaa.com.

Petty finished with 25 kills, eight digs and six blocks to lead Lewis. Gallik added 12 blocks (one solo).

University of California at Irvine (24-5), the winner of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, will play Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association winner Penn State (23-5) in the other semifinal.

***

The University of Notre Dame, behind National Player of the Year junior Rob Bauer and 2008 Brother Rice graduate Kevin Padden, won the 2012 National Collegiate Men's Volleyball Tournament Championship earlier last month in Kansas City, Mo., defeating UC Berkeley 25-23,

Notre Dame (34-7) advanced to the finals by defeating Illinois-A 25-19, 23-25, 15-12 in the semifinals.

***

Dan Dowjotas (Westmont, Ill./Montini Catholic H.S.), a three-time All-American at St. Ambrose, was named the 2012 NAIA Men's Volleyball National Player of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).

The 6-3 outside hitter was the driving force behind St. Ambrose's program-best 33-win season and the team's second straight appearance in the national championship match. He finished his career for the Bees' as the school's all-time kill leader with 1,652.

St. Ambrose is coached by Oak Lawn native and Brother Rice graduate Bill Gleeson.

***

Lincoln-Way East will host one of the season's best tournaments this weekend hoping to improve upon its second-place finish to Glenbrook North at the Brother Rice Smack Attack.

"We played really well (at Brother Rice)," LW East coach Kris Fiore said. "We just kind of sputtered at the end against a very good Glenbrook North team. But we're going to learn from that.

"We've been talking about things we can do to correct and get better from that game," he added. "They exploited us on some things and we're working on improving on those."

Senior outside hitter Nate Royer said defense - and confidence - are key to the Griffins' success.

"We've picked up our defense lately, and our serving and passing been great," he said. "We're running a quick offense and playing confident volleyball, and that's good."

***

Waubonsie Valley reclaimed a spot in the top 10 after a two-week absence with its impressive performance at Benet last weekend, knocking off Glenbard West in the semifinals and host Benet in the championship.

"The sky's the limit (for this team)," coach Al Lagger said. "We just have to keep pushing hard, taking them one at a time and trying our best each time."

The championship should give Waubonsie Valley (22-5) some ammunition heading into the sectional seeding process. The Warriors are one of many teams that would like to avoid sectional host Wheaton Warrenville South in a regional.

"We knew we had to do well in this tournament to get a higher seed," Lagger said.

***

Benet isn't very tall. Even the Redwings' middle are short compared to most teams. So they have one simple function - get their hands on enough balls and funnel the hits to the team's libero or left front blocker.

"It's a funny thing," Benet coach Amy Van Eekeren said. "You want swings, but you need blocks. Their main goal for us is blocks. If they don't get the blocks, they have to line it up and channel the ball to our defense, either to our left front or to our libero down the line.

"That the goal," she added. "But if they're in spots they're not used to playing, they're not quite closing the blocks and they're not channeling the ball the way we need it to go."

Benet's usual strategy took a bit of a hit Saturday when the team's best middle, 6-foot-2 senior Matt Conroy, suffered an ankle injury early in the day and leg cramps in the title match against Waubonsie Valley.

"We rely on solid blocking to set up our defense," Van Eekeren said. "At first, we thought it was the same ankle he rolled earlier in the day. But then we realized it was leg cramps. We had to so dome icing for sure."

***

Marian Catholic's Amber Clay, former Benet standout Maddie Haggerty, Decatur St. Teresa's Marie Less and Bryanna Weiskircher of Rockford Boylan were named to the Prepvolleyball.com Soph 79 - the top 79 sophomores in the country -- announced recently.

Clay led Marian Catholic to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. She had 286 kills on the season, including 18 in the state semifinal against Woodstock Marian Central and seven in the third-place loss to St. Francis.

Haggerty's 16 kills in the state championship match helped Benet overcome Cary-Grove. Now the 6-1 sophomore will take her talents to St. Francis, where she will join her younger sister Molly. Haggerty finished third on Benet in kills and blocks and fourth in aces.

Less, a 5-9 outside hitter, had 343 kills for the Bulldogs, who reached the Class 2A Final Four, while the 6-1 Weiskircher, who has verbally committed to Penn State, had 433 kills and 329 assists for the Class 3A sectional semifinalists.

Fenton volleyball coach Heather Snyder leaped at the opportunity to assume the reins of the boys program at the Bensenville school. A former volleyball player at Fenton, she had been coaching soccer at her alma mater when the position opened up this year.

What her teams lacks in size, club experience and reputation, it more than makes up for it in determination and hard work. Last week at Elk Grove, the Bison continued to show signs of improvement under their first-year coach.

"They played hard," Snyder said. "They definitely had fun. They returned some hits that we wouldn't have returned any other game. I see it moving into a more positive direction. We struggled with some things at the beginning of the season, but now we're coming together and hopefully we'll just build on this and improve from here on out."

Snyder's efforts this season have been hampered by defections and lack of size. Carlos Campos is the only starter over 6-foot.

"We are very short," Snyder said. "Our middle hitter is the second shortest on the team. Throughout people leaving the team, we've rotated some people through this position. It's definitely the position we need to fill."

Snyder said she has received a lot of support from the other coaches on the staff.

"I feel like the coaching staff at every level is very strong," she said. "We're on the same page. We just got to get the kids there."

***

Wheaton Warrenville South's 6-foot-6 middle Matt Nussbaum returned to the lineup last weekend at the Mustang invite hosted by Downers Grove South after missing the team's first 17 matches with a pair of patellar tendon injuries.

The three-year varsity veteran admitted to being a little rusty, but liked what he saw from his view on the bench prior to his return.

"I can see that we are definitely working better as a team than we have in the past," he said. "Despite me being out, it doesn't affect us. People make up for it in different positions. Everyone plays their role and does their job well.

"It's been tough (getting acclimated to playing again)," Nussbaum added. "But it's definitely getting easier and easier. I'm getting my confidence back. Slowly, but it's coming."

Veteran outside hitter Tim Zyburt praised Jared Chandler, who filled Nussbaum's shoes until he returned last weekend.

"There was no difference," he said. "Jared came in with big shoes to fill with Nussbaum being a two-year starter, and he did exactly that. We had to help Matt out a little bit. He's a little rusty. But it's fun to see him out there. I think he had a lot of fun, too."

***

The biggest surprise of last weekend's Mustang Invite might have been Glenbrook South. The Titans finished third after losing to Glenbard East in the semifinals, and look ready to make a strong second-half run after veteran setter Brian Brennan opted not to return this season.

"We played some defense (last weekend)," coach Tim Monahan said. (Glenbard East coach Maier) Marci just complimented us on our defense. That's probably the first time anyone said, 'Nice defense.' Unfortunately, we had some seams in our defense today and that's what they were hitting."

Glenbrook South struggled early this season while trying to solve its setting issues, but the emergence of junior Matt Kaiser has helped the Titans turn their fortunes around.

"We've been having a nice run," Monahan said. "The guys have stepped up and matured as a team. We're starting to play well. Matt is running a real nice offense. He's been doing that for a couple weeks now. It's starting to look good for us."

In addition to avenging an earlier loss to Maine South last week, the Titans also knocked off Central Suburban League rival New Trier. Leading the Titans have been veterans Will Kozloski, Drew Maki, Charley Tisch, 6-8 Piotr Rafalo and middle Troy Farsakian.

"It was nice to get them (Maine South)," Monahan said. "We got New Trier earlier in the week. It's looking good for us. We got to keep playing tough and don't let this (loss to Glenbard East) get us down. Finishing third here is our best showing in nine years."

***

Naperville North was the last team off the court at last weekend's Mustang Invite hosted by Downers Grove South. The Huskies went three sets to defeat Maine South (18-25, 25-21, 25-22) in the fifth-place semifinal, the downed New Trier in the fifth-place match (21-25, 25-21, 26-24).

Naperville North outside hitter Spencer Sauter almost seemed disappointed the tournament was over.

"The thing about Naperville North volleyball...we just like to play," the 6-foot-7 Penn State recruit said. "We like to go three sets just so we can play more volleyball. We just like to go out there and play."

Sauter's lighthearted sarcasm notwithstanding, the Huskies enjoyed one of their best weekends of the season and moved to 14-7 after some ups and downs earlier this season.

"This was a huge weekend for us," Sauter said. "We've been progressing throughout the season. Our goal was this week was to go 7-0. We were being very optimistic, But we were able to go 6-1 this week. That's a huge step for us. I definitely think we're hitting our stride.

"We're starting to spread the ball around a lot more which is nice, our middles doing a great job putting the balls away, our blocking has been there, and our middles have been closing," he added. "By the end of the season, we'll be ready for another Naperville North playoff run."

For those who might have forgotten, Naperville North reached the finals of the state tournament in 2011 after knocking off favored WW South in a sectional final.

***

Lake Park got some bad news last week. Leading hitter Michal Ragan dislocated the pinky finger on his right hand. He sat out last weekend's Mustang Invite, although there is hope he could return in a couple of weeks.

"Originally, the prognosis was surgery with a pin and he'd be done for the season," coach Tim Murphy said. "Now there is more hope. They reset the finger and they think it's going to be able to stay without the pin. Their thinking is three weeks."

The Lancers, who finished 2-3, were also without 6-5 senior middle Andrew Hochstadt, who was on a college visit.

"He was on a visit to MIT," Murphy said. "I said yeah, it's MIT. So we went with a sophomore middle. It was a makeshift lineup. We did OK, we just didn't finish."

***

Another player noticeable by his presence on the bench was Willowbrook's 6-6 hitter Jacob Schmiegelt. Schmiegelt was struck in the face playing volleyball in gym class and was held out of the tournament for precautionary reasons.

The Warriors (8-9) went 1-4 at the Mustang Invite with their star on the sidelines.

It is bad enough that the IHSA loaded a handful of sectionals with all the best teams in Illinois. Then to compound matters, two of the top sectionals get paired off in a state quarterfinal.

According to the "rolling of the peas" conducted in the IHSA offices Friday, the winner of the Lincoln-Way East (Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North, Sandburg, Marist?) and Glenbrook North (the hosts?) sectionals will meet in the first quarterfinal on Friday, June 1 at Hoffman Estates.

On the other end of the spectrum, the IHSA did no favor to the winner of the Whitney Young sectional. What will likely be either Payton or Young will draw the winner of the toughest sectional in the state - at Wheaton Warrenville South - in a first-round matchup.

Here are the 2012 boys state volleyball quarterfinal pairings:

Lincoln-Way East sectional vs. Glenbrook North sectional; Romeoville sectional vs. De La Salle sectional; Young sectional vs. Wheaton Warrenville South sectional; and the Elgin sectional vs. the winner of the Barrington sectional.

If projected top seeds hold to form (some certainly will but some will not) the quarterfinals would feature Lincoln-Way North vs. Glenbrook North, Minooka vs. Mt. Carmel, Payton vs. WW South, and Lake Park vs. Barrington.

***

Penn State added a third player from Illinois to its 2012 recruiting class when it inked Naperville North's outstanding 6-7 outside hitter Spencer Sauter. Sauter will join Downers Grove North setter Zach Parik and Wheaton Warrenville South middle Matt Callaway at Penn State.

"In guys' volleyball, there's a huge stereotype that California is the place to be," Sauter said. "This really shows there's talent out in the Midwest. Every year, it gets better and better. I feel like men's volleyball in Illinois gets better every year and it's starting to finally show."

Sauter recently took a visit to Penn State and instantly knew he made the tight choice.

"I was actually just out there (two weeks ago) and loved everything about it," he said. "The campus was beautiful. There are mountains everywhere. I love the program, too."

Sauter was surprised by how the men's program is conducted.

"I thought it was going to be a tightly run program being Penn State and everything," he said. "But they give a lot of freedom to the players. They hold them accountable to get better. I really like that."

***

Barrington libero Austin Czarnecki found himself running all over the court during the Broncos' semifinal match against Stevenson at the Lake County invite Saturday. The Patriots' liberal use of tips and roll shots against the taller Broncos had the champions on their heels early.

"Stevenson definitely came out really hot and ready to beat us," Czarnecki saidf. "They gave it their all and we were kind of slow at the beginning. But we started getting the tips and roll shots and that was the key to beating Stevenson.

"That momentum just carried over into the Vernon Hills match," he added. "We know so many guys on that team, it was almost like friendly competition because we play with so many of them on club. It was like, 'Man, I really want to beat them.'

"It was a matter of just going out there and playing. We know exactly what they have and they know exactly what we have. It was just two great teams competing, but I'm glad we pulled it out."

***

Barrington's 6-5 senior outside hitter Jeff Hochstein, whose block against Pipeline Volleyball Club teammate and Vernon Hills outside hitter Martin Niemczewski sealed the Broncos' second consecutive Lake County tournament title Saturday, remembers all too well their loss against Glenbard East at the Bison Battle earlier this season.

Barrington led Glenbard East 13-11 in the third game (played to 15), but the Broncos were blocked on three straight rallies. The Rams eventually won 15-13.

"That motivates us a lot," Hochstein said. "We know we have to finish matches and we did that this match (vs. Vernon Hills). If we had finished that Glenbard East match, that whole day would have had a different tone.

"I think we would have had a lot more energy for the last match (vs. Sandburg)," he added. "In practice, we play games starting at 21-18 and we have to finish. That's just what motivates us."

***

Last year, Vernon Hills lost twice at the Lake County tournament and finished third in the state. Vernon Hills was denied a county title again this year by Barrington, but Cougars' coach Chris Curry hopes his players show the same resilience they did last year.

"Last year we came into this tournament and lost Highland Park and Stevenson," he said. "Those matches showed us what we weren't good at, and we had our best week of practice the next week. That tournament really turned things around.

"If our senior captains can motivate their team to improve all parts of their game, maybe we will see (Barrington) again in the sectional and have a little closer matchup," Curry added.

***

Led by junior setter Jonah May and senior outside hitters Collin Ryan and Jason Fleischman, Stevenson (12-2) had No. 8 Barrington on the ropes in Games 2 and 3 of their semifinal match at the Lake County tournament Saturday.

But the Patriots, who led 19-15 in Game 2 and 14-9 in Game 3, were unable to close the deal. Both times, the Patriots got caught in a rotation from which there was no escape, coach Tim Crow said.

"We never should have lost that second game," he said. "We went up three or four points then we had a bad rotation. We gave up six or seven points in a row. That makes a difference when you do that against a good team.

"In the third game we had a good run good for a five-point lead and they were able to come back within a rotation or two, tie the game up and go ahead," Crow added. "We didn't finish the deal. We felt like we should have beaten them.

"They're an outstanding team. We played extremely well except for three rotations. We had three bad rotations. I think that's pretty much what did us in."

Stevenson used tips and tools liberally during the match, trying to compensate for its lack of size against the Broncos, who threw a couple of triple-blocks against the Patriots' top outside hitters.

"I think we were effective doing that," Crow said. "We also talked about tooling it more. I think we got through their block once. We got blocked a few times, and we had five or six kills on tips. The triple block wasn't the concern of mine, just our inability to get out of a rotation.

"Especially with the type of guys we have," he added. "We don't have one guy who is so dominant he can hit from all over. We still need to make better choices in our offense, pay a little more attention to how many points we give up in a row and try to make things a bit less dynamic. Get a sideout and move on."

***

Deerfield coach Eugene Chung got creative at the Lake County invite and his team surprised Carmel on the final day of the tournament.

"We played both days without our starting setter and captain, Scott Laner, who was home with the flu," Chung said. "On day two, we were also without rightside Matt Dlugie and played half of the match against Lake Forest without three more players who were taking the ACT.

"It was time for some creative lineups and for our youth to gain some experience," he added. "I even called up a sophomore JV setter who had never even practiced with us to set a 5-1 on Saturday in game 1 against Lake Forest."

Deerfield, which defeated Grant (25-11, 25-16) and lost to Warren (25-18, 23-25, 15-11) and Vernon Hills (25-16, 25-21) in pool play, bounced back from Saturday's 25-21, 25-23 loss to Lake Forest to defeat Carmel, 25-18, 17-25, 27-25.

***

Although her team struggled in Game 1 of a 25-22, 25-11 victory over St. Patrick last week with senior outside hitter Alex Kahn sidelined with illness, Glenbard West coach Christine Giunta-Mayer let her team play through its mistakes.

"We had a lot of errors in the first game, but I told the guys that they got to figure it out themselves," she said. "We were tight the whole first game.

"But I got an all-state setter (Alex Emanuel) who can do anything he wants - he's a phenomenal athlete - I got Ian Lawson who can do anything he wants, but everybody else has to be a part of it," she said. "It just can't be two guys, and that's what they did differently in Game 2.

"We started running the middles a lot, and the middles are good. You get that really good hitter and you get excited about it, but you have to use everybody. Game 2 was a reflection of that. Scottie (Thomas) had like five kills in the middle and (Matt) Burelbach had a couple."

***

St. Patrick's 6-foot outside Joey Williams is one of the better hitters in the city, but the Shamrocks are still looking to find a complement for him following the graduation from last season's 20-game winner of 6-4 Ryan Fisher.

However, Fisher's graduation cost St. Patrick coach Julie Wiejak more than just a solid hitter. She lost one of her top passers. That loss is being felt just as hard.

"I had a libero who graduated who passed like a 2.3, Ryan passed a 2.3," she said. "We lost that consistent passing from two guys and you have to make that up. We've had a roundhouse of people through the back row trying to find out who's going to consistently take over that job.

"The great news is there's a lot of opportunity out there," she added. "We have a lot of youth, but also a lot of opportunity. We have a lot of young guys getting a chance to get better."

While the search for passing and a compliment to Williams continues, St. Patrick has stayed in early matches through strong serving.

"When we serve well, it's the thing that makes us play well," Wiejak said. "So when we're off on serving, our whole game ends up like a rollercoaster. When we're serving good and consistent and aggressive, our whole game ends up good and consistent and aggressive."

***

Downers Grove North's 6-1 outside hitter Taylor Kasal signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.


Once again, the Illinois High School Association has ensured that a state tournament will pack all the thrills of a horsedrawn carriage ride down Michigan Avenue - sans date.

And will grant about as little equity and fairness to the athletes involved.

Nearly all of the top-ranked boys volleyball teams in the state have been assigned to two sectionals - Wheaton Warrenville South and Lincoln-Way East.

The WW South sectional features top-ranked WW South, Glenbard West, Glenbard East, Downers Grove North, Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley, Naperville North, Benet and St. Francis.

The field at LW East is no picnic either. The field includes Brother Rice, Marist, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North, Lincoln-Way Central and defending state champion Sandburg.

Meanwhile, Glenbrook North should go unchallenged at home, either St. Rita or Mt. Carmel will be favored at DeLaSalle, Payton might be the best of a city-dominated field at Whitney Young, Lake Park should have little trouble at Elgin outside Elk Grove, and Minooka and Providence will vie for the Lockport title.

The only other sectional that packs any drama will be at Barrington, where the hosts, Buffalo Grove, Libertyville, Stevenson and Vernon Hills might make for an interesting field.

St. Ignatius coach Mark Johnston, who stands to benefit from a sectional bereft of any traditionally strong programs, admits that the IHSA appears to have stacked the sectionals to ensure that the city is well-represented at state.

"It looks like they're trying to make sure that somebody from the city gets there," he said.

The ridiculous sectional assignments aside, many boys volleyball coaches still wonder why their state championship is played at a high school. Hoffman Estates officials are extremely cooperative and dedicated, but seating at floor level is minimal and space around the court limited.

Brother Rice coach Paul Ickes has long tried to bring the state tournament to St. Xavier University on the south side, while other local colleges could also be considered as potential hosts.

Despite the shabby treatment from Bloomington, the number of schools offering boys volleyball reached 196 this spring.

***

Speaking of St. Ignatius, the Wolfpack may not benefit from the realignment of the sectional this year, but looking ahead, coach Mark Johnston could be a player at state in 2013 and 2014.

"What we did this year we're going to take some bumps and bruises," he said. "But this sets up real well next year, two years from now. The junior varsity is 12 freshmen and two sophomores, and I'm only graduating three seniors.

"We're only going to pick up three more kids next year, which means that whole core of freshmen kids who are playing JV already this year will play another year of JV next year. We didn't get the number we wanted this year, but this sets us up really well in the future."

With 6-9 senior middle Peter Ryckbosh away over spring break, St. Ignatius rolled out a lineup that included 5-7 sophomore setter Cooper Hardy, 6-3 sophomore middle Zach Gortowski, 6-6 sophomore Joe Loftus and 6-2 sophomore Stephan Iwanik last week at Providence.

Next year, Johnston will also return 5-11 junior outside hitter Billy Langhenry and 5-10 junior setter Neil Browne.

"We're trying to get these guys excited and motivated, trying to get them to play club," Johnston said. "That's the name of the game. But that's also the struggle we always deal with because I got kids living all over the place.

"So it's not like they can just hop a ride with somebody else," he added. "I got some Northside kids, I got some kids from Orland, I got some western suburbs kids. So it's not like they live by each other. They don't hang out outside of school. So it's tough."

Meanwhile, the St. Ignatius team members are sporting some nifty all-white warm-ups this year.

"Win or lose, we look good," Johnston said.

***

Glenbard East found out how the other half lives Saturday at Springfest.

The Rams, who scored the last five points of the match to defeat Barrington in three sets at the Bison Battle, yielded the last six points of the match in an 18-25, 25-23, 26-24 championship semifinal loss to Downers Grove South.

"The bottom line is you've got to be ready to execute in the beginning of the game until the end," coach Marci Maier said. "We played well the first game and we played OK in the second game. I thought they (Downers South) were playing well.

"Not to take anything away from (Downers South), but we did not appear to have that edge, that sense of urgency that there needs to be on every single ball in the second game," she added. "And when it went to three, we again fought for awhile, but we missed five serves."

Immediately following a timeout at set point, the Rams went to outside Matt Ploke, who missed the line by less than an inch.

"It was the right play," Maier said. "We had a one-on-one block. We hit the ball out of bounds. We didn't execute. We had plenty of room to hit. He just overrotated a little. But the difference between winning and losing is they have to execute and they have to appear to want it."

The Rams bounced back to defeat St. Francis 25-11, 25-20 for third place, while Downers South went on to defeat Neuqua Valley for the championship.

"They (her players) looked very determined in that last match, and if this is a hard lesson that we have to learn now, that every match that we come into we have to play with that sense of urgency and determination, it's a hard lesson to learn," Maier said.

***

Previously No. 2-ranked Glenbard West suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at Springfest, falling 17-25, 27-25, 15-11 to Glenbard East in pool play. But the Hilltoppers bounced back to defeat Benet and West Aurora to finish fifth.

"We learned that we have to keep our unforced errors as low as possible, play our game and let them make the mistakes," Glenbard West setter Alex Emanuel said. "We did that well in the first game, but in the second game they got on some runs, we made some errors and they got ahead of us.

"The momentum shifted completely in that second game and we didn't know what to do," he added. "We made some errors at the end that cost us the second game, and going into the third game they had all the momentum. We didn't come to play the third game. They were the better team that game."

The Hilltoppers are only seven games into the season and are working in some new players, especially in the middle where they have to replace Adam Lepold and his 300 kills from a year ago.

"We're still trying to find out what kind of team we really are," Emanuel said. "It feels good to come out winning the silver division and going home on a good note after a tough loss."

***

Spencer Sauter, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter from Naperville North and the Ultimate Volleyball Club, verbally committed Monday to Penn State. Sauter was recently named to the all-tournament team at the Tiger Classic hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South on March 31.

"Spencer is a phenomenal talent and an even greater person," Naperville North coach Nate Bornancin said. "I think it is incredible how much talent continues to come out of this area of the country."

Spencer will join 6-8 middle hitter Matt Callaway (Wheaton Warrenville South) and 6-4 setter Zach Parik (Downers Grove North) at Penn State next year.

***

Waubonsie Valley's 6-6 sophomore outside hitter Mike Simmons should be on every college team's radar, but there is one school he hopes comes calling.

"I want to play college ball," he said. "Ohio State is my dream school because it's close and it's the Midwest and they're pretty good, but I will go anywhere for volleyball. Anyone who has a team, I just want to keep playing. Call me!"

***

Neuqua Valley (9-2) suffered two tough losses last week - to Lincoln-Way North and Downers Grove South - and passing was the main culprit.

"One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the season was our middles and our right side can theoretically lead our team in kills this year," Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. "Typically, you never see that happen with teams. It's always the outside hitters.

"But we're unique in that regard," he added. "Both our middles (Connor Richardson and Joseph Michael) are really athletic. We can set them all over the court. But if the passes are at the 10-foot line, they're useless. We can't do anything with them.

"I felt that was one of the things that was a bit off (Saturday) obviously," Mendoza said.

Richardson leads the Wildcats in kills and rightside Jake Gerald is right behind.

"Richardson got a ton of kills (nine) in that Downers South match," Mendoza said. "Any time we had a chance to set him, we set him, and they knew we were going to set him and they couldn't stop him. That's shows what we're capable of doing when we do pass well and play good defense."

***

Not to look too far ahead, but....you can just mail the 2012 girls Class 3A state championship trophy to St. Francis and save everybody else a lot of time and wasted effort.

It was revealed last week that former Benet standout Maddie Haggerty, whose 16 kills helped the Redwings defeat Cary-Grove in last year's Class 4A state championship, was leaving Benet to join her younger sister, Molly, at St. Francis.

Molly Haggerty, a 6-foot setter who plays for Sports Performance's 15 Elite team, is widely considered one of the top incoming freshmen in the country. Maddie Haggerty plays for Sports Performance's 18 Elite team with her sister Meghan, who is headed to Wisconsin in the fall.

St. Francis returns setter McKenna Kelsay, junior outside hitter Michelle McLaughlin, defensive specialist Lexi Riccolo and freshman middle Mary Boken from last year's Class 3A third-place finisher.

The addition of the Haggerty sisters makes the Spartans the prohibitive favorites to win it all in 2012.

"We are excited to have the girls at St. Francis," coach Peg Kopec said. "We believe it will be a great all-around fit for them."

***

Sara-Jane Pavlik, a 2012 graduate of Benet Academy, has committed to play volleyball for Lindenwood University, a school of about 17,000 students in St. Charles, Mo. Pavlik is a 5-foot-10 setter/rightside hitter who plays club for 1st Alliance.

"Between the great academics, competitive athletics and beautiful campus, I knew it was the place for me," Pavlik said. "Lindenwood is a big family and I can't wait to be a part of it."

"Lindenwood is getting a player who is extremely passionate about volleyball," Benet coach Brad baker said. "Sarah-Jane has worked extremely hard to become a very good setter and hitter. To become skilled at both takes a person willing to spend many years and long hours working in the gym."

Wheaton Warrenville South's Tim Zyburt and Nick Smith played some last year when Eric Luhrsen was still recovering from a football injury. This year, they are taking a backseat to no one.

Zyburt shared scoring honors with Tom Jaeschke on Saturday's final of the Tiger Classic with eight kills against Lincoln-Way East, and the 5-foot-11 Smith, possibly the shortest outside hitter ever to play for Bill Schreier, checked in with seven kills.

The 6-foot-6 Zyburt, 6-7 Jaeshke and 6-7 Matt Callaway combined to give WW South another formidable front line.

"It's great being out there, being out with the guys," said Zyburt, who also played varsity basketball at WW South. "It's a blast, especially with the great team that we have this year."

Smith may be a full eight inches shorter than any other attacker on the Tigers' side of the net, but he touches 10-foot-11 and is developing quite a repertoire of shots.

"My height is obviously not to my advantage," Smith said. "I just try to work on shot. I try to hit deep corners, tips, anything to get a point. Wherever the open court is, that's where I go to. I've been tipping over the block, but they've been picking it up lately. So I try to mix it up and hit deep corners."

Schreier likes what Zyburt and Smith have been doing in the early going.

"Nick and Tim make it hard to play defense against us because you can't just concentrate on one person," he said. "We had three guys with seven-plus kills (against LW East). I think that shows we're pretty hard to match up with, and Kit's (setter Bruzek) is doing a great job running the system."

And how does Smith feel about being one of the shortest outsides in recent WW South history?

"It's kind of breaking a precedent," he said.

***

Size doesn't seem to bother Lincoln-Way East's Nate Royer, either. The 5-11 senior cranked out 11 kills in the Griffin's loss to WW South in Saturday's Tiger Classic championship match.

"I thought he played outstanding offensively and defensively," Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said. "He isn't the biggest guy, but you can move him all over the place.

"He's so versatile and so fast, that often a blocker will look for him but he moves so quick he's hard to anticipate," the coach added. "He jumps so fast he gets up over you."

***

No one quite knew what to expect from Sandburg after the defending state champions were hit hard by graduation. But behind setters Nick Bendell and Scott Fifer, the Eagles (6-4) have finished fifth and fourth at their first two tournaments.

Saturday at the Tiger Classic, Sandburg handed previously unbeaten Lake Park its first loss, 25-13, 25-15, in the quarterfinals, then went on to finish fourth after dropping a 21-25, 25-19, 25-20 decision to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way East.

"I thought we played really good," Fifer said. "It was just a few things here and there. We just got to get more comfortable playing with each other, knowing who covers what, what the other person's tendencies are. Once we get a little more chemistry together, we'll start clicking.

"It's still early in the season and they're ranked a lot higher than us," he added. "We'll see what happens when it matters May."

***

Naperville North (6-4), the team that Sandburg beat to win the 2011 state championship, has been searching for the right combination with which to surround Spencer Sauter following the graduation of all-area selection Shane Witmer, Henry Cheatham, Danny Boryca, Steve Massoni and Ryan Loughlin.

Saturday, coach Nate Bornancin went to a 6-2 with Matt Thornton sharing setting duties with 6-6 Gert Lisha, a transfer from Oswego. The lineup led to a Silver division championship and victories over Lincoln-Way Central, Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) and New Trier.

"We changed up a little bit," Bornancin said. "It was nice to have Thornton back. He wasn't here on Thursday (for pool play). We're just throwing guys out there and seeing what's working."

One of the things that has been working for Naperville North is 6-4 junior outside hitter Dan Koch.

"We named him another captain in practice (Friday) because he's been stepping up for us all season," Bornancin said. "He's taken that and is kind of rolling with it. Spencer's going to get his kills, but we're looking for other guys to step up and Dan, Kyle (Losik) and Matt (Jennings) have been solid all year.

"I'm really excited about the way we're playing," he added. "We're playing with personality, and I think that's what's been missing the last couple of days."

***

One of the bigger surprises of the early season is 10th-ranked Waubonsie Valley, which reached the championship match of the Marist invite two weeks ago, and lost only once - to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way East--and finished fifth at the Tiger Classic.

Coach Al Lagger made no excuses about his team's 25-21, 25-14 loss to the Griffins Saturday.

"We played well in the first game, but in the second game they were a better team than we were," he said. "We just didn't execute down the stretch and they did."

He called the Warriors' 25-20, 26-24 win over Lake Park in the consolation semifinals a character-builder.

"We trailed in the first game and came back and won, and we came back in the second game like we did against Marist on Thursday (when the Warriors trailed 24-21 and won 26-24)," he said. "We're getting that playing from behind under our belt and making the right plays at the right time."

Waubonsie Valley's top players are junior setter Luke Furman, 6-6 sophomore outside hitter Mike Simmons and 6-6 senior Mike Storm.

"I'm ecstatic," Lagger said. "If you had told me at the beginning of the season what we are right now - 10-2 and finishing in the top five of this tournament...there's no slouch in this tournament. To be fifth at WW South is amazing for us, so I'm quite happy."

***

Previously unbeaten Lake Park bounced back from losses to Sandburg and Waubonsie Valley to defeat Brother Rice 26-24, 25-11 and finished seventh at the Tiger Classic.

The Lancers are sporting a new look this year under first year coach Tim Murphy. They have abandoned their traditional boardshorts - a favorite of former coach George Sherman -- in favor of predominately white shorts that have a "boardshort-like" stripe on the outside legs.

"It was my decision," said Murphy, who played for Sherman a few years ago. "This is my first year as coach and it's my alma mater. I wanted to keep the tradition there, but maybe not as blinding a tradition."

***

The Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora will host the 2012 Collegiate Challenge on Saturday, April 14.

Eleven women's teams, including Bradley, Wisconsin, Illinois, Marquette. Iowa, DePaul, Missouri State, Michigan State, UW-Milwaukee, Notre Dame and a team from Tianjin, China, will participate in the tournament.

Play begins at 8:00 a.m. with two pools of four teams and one pool of three teams playing six sets, The pool winners, runners-up and losers from Round 1 will meet in a best two-of-three format beginning at 1:45 p.m.

***

Prairie Ridge has openings for teams in two girls' tournaments in the fall 2012 - a sophomore tournament on September 15 and a junior varsity tournament on September 29.

For more information, contact Prairie Ridge athletic director Patti Hie at phie@d155.org or Prairie Ridge coach Stefanie Otto at sotto@d155.org.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Back Row in April 2012.

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